Freedom of the Press
Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Genuine press freedom continued to be absent in Yemen due to the government’s vigilance in silencing dissent. The constitution supports free speech “within the limits of the law,” and Article 3 of the 1990 Press and Publication Law supports the right to “freedom of knowledge, thought, the press, personal expression, communication, and access to information.” Nevertheless, the government does not respect these rights in practice, and few legal or social protections exist for journalists. Debates around the creation of a new Press Law continued in 2006, after the Ministry of Information submitted a draft to the Parliament in 2005. While the draft Press Law under consideration removes jail terms for press offenses, journalists can still face imprisonment under the country’s penal code. In addition, restrictions remain in place against criticizing the president and harming national interests, more stringent regulations on entering the field of journalism have been introduced, and the capital required to launch a print publication has been increased.
Meanwhile, journalists faced criminal charges under the 1990 Press Law, continuing an alarming trend that began in 2004, partly in reaction to the media’s increasing coverage of sensitive topics such as state policies toward the southern region of the country, relations with neighboring Arab states, corruption, security issues, and antiterrorism policy. In 2006, public officials, ministries, corporations, and the president of the republic all filed lawsuits against the press, charging criminal defamation and libel. In February, three journalists were imprisoned temporarily and charged (under both the penal code and the Press Law) with insulting the prophet Muhammad after they reprinted cartoons caricaturing Muhammad that originally appeared in a Danish daily in September 2005. Kamal al-Olufi of Al-Rai al-Am, Mohammed al-Assadi, editor of the Yemen Observer, and two journalists from Al-Hurriya were all convicted at the end of the year and received various sentences including the suspension of their papers, temporary writing bans, fines, and prison terms. One opposition paper, Al-Thawri, and its editor in chief, Khalid Salman, were involved in 14 separate civil lawsuits in 2006.
In addition to legal harassment, journalists faced direct and indirect attacks at the hands of both state and non-state actors, including assaults, travel bans, and smear campaigns. Government censors also targeted newspaper offices. A noticeable increase in offenses against the press occurred in the months leading up to the September presidential elections. The Yemeni organization, Women Journalists Without Chains, reported 67 cases of violations committed against journalists in 2006 solely for expressing their opinions. Jamal Amer, editor in chief of the independent newspaper Al-Wasat, who was abducted, beaten, and threatened by suspected government agents in August 2005, continued to be harassed in 2006. Abed al-Osaily, a journalist from the newspaper Al-Nahar, was murdered in July after writing an article that criticized government handling of a local irrigation project. Police failed to arrest the perpetrators. A number of other journalists were physically attacked both on and off the job, often while covering protests, sit-ins, political rallies, and sensitive topics. In one such instance in March, Qaed al-Tairi of Al-Thawri was kidnapped and assaulted for articles criticizing public figures. Perpetrators of violence against the press are rarely prosecuted, and the government seems to support an environment of complete impunity for these crimes, failing to conduct serious investigations or denounce the assaults. There were few developments in the cases of crimes committed in 2005, such as the November stabbing of journalist Nabil Sabaie, the December attack on journalist Muhammed Sadiq al-Odaini, or the injury of Al-Nahar editor Haga’ al-Jehafi caused by an exploding file folder. The president and the defense minister continued to instigate violence toward oppositional journalists through speeches that insinuated they were traitors or separatists financed by external enemies.
Yemen offers a wide and diverse range of print publications that express the different perspectives of the government and the opposition, as well as independent and international views. Nevertheless, more than 70 percent of the population lives in rural areas where newspapers are not distributed, and the country has a high rate of illiteracy. Most people receive their news from the radio and television; however, the state maintains a monopoly on all broadcast media. There is currently no procedure for licensing independent media. Satellite television and the internet provide sources of uncensored domestic and international news but are available primarily in urban areas. Little more than 1 percent of the population accesses the internet. The government inspects all printed material that arrives from abroad and filters internet content. Websites were blocked in the months surrounding the September presidential elections.